Last call for late planting

If the garden has not exhausted your enthusiasm for 2012 you have until mid-November to bury onion sets and garlic cloves.  Professionals disagree about the best planting date which ranges from late August through October depending upon who advises, but un-professional Texans whose main occupation is being kids’ taxi drivers know the insane last possible minute they can get the job done.

An onion “set” is a 6” miniature onion some nurseryman germinated from a small, hard, black seed during the summer.  Sets look like dwarf green salad onions that change after they find a garden home.

Crates of inexpensive 50-start bundles arrive in garden supply stores by late September most years.  Can you find some in November?  Maybe.  Set the bundle(s) in a bowl of water for a pre-planting drink.

Fat garlic bulbs from the grocery store work just fine.  Remove the papery outer layers, break the individual “cloves” apart then soak them in a bowl of warm water for an hour or so before planting.

Meanwhile, till the planting area, and work in a generous dose of compost: decaying organic matter like leaves, tree bark bits, broken twigs, and kitchen vegetable scraps.  Grass clippings work, but use them in moderation and well mixed with the other compost because in abundance they tend to mat and interfere with the movement of water.

Hoe shallow planting rows about 1” deep and no less than 12” apart as maturing bulb onions produce big plants above ground.  Give the rows a soaking.  The ground should absorb the water easily.

Water that stands in the garden a long time indicates too much clay and too little compost and sandy topsoil, a problem in newer suburban gardens in southern Denton County.  Break up natural clay by tilling in compost and topsoil until the soil texture crumbles when damp.

Pretend your garden is a cake, and use a kitchen knife to check how deep you’ve watered.  The soil should be moist to a minimum depth of 4”, but at 6” plants will holler, “Now you’re cookin’!”

In the damp rows plant the onion sets roots first, and the garlic cloves points up, each about 4 inches from their nearest neighbors. Tamp soil around the onions’ “necks,” and cover the garlic completely.  Wet the rows again for good measure.

The feeding and care of backyard onions and garlic is more art than science.  Neither minds dry feet, but they do need a drink now and then throughout the winter.  Brace yourself for a long growing season, and don’t worry about frost or snow or ice.  Go ahead and mulch your babies if you’ll feel better.  The rule of thumb is always give them a good drink in advance of a freeze.

Late planted garlic may not peek out of the ground until the end of winter, but the voice of experience says, (a) never say never, and (b) have faith because things are happening underground in both cases.

When spring growth gets visibly underway, loosen the dirt around the bulbs and cloves, but easy does it.  Gentle tilling makes bulb expansion easier in clay soils.

Onions and garlic attempt to flower in the summer.  For nice fat bulbs, cut the flowers every time a bud shoots up.

Garlic is ready to harvest when its green leaves wilt and turn brown sometime around July 4.  Bulb onions are ready to harvest whenever you need one in the kitchen; just keep cutting off the flowers since the bulbs deteriorate after flowering.

Spread harvested, uncleaned onions and garlic out to dry in a cool dark area like a closet.  Trim the roots then braid their leaves, and hang the bundles from the closet hanger rod for storage.  Cut a vegetable loose when you need it.

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